Barbara Lippert’s Critique: Season’s Meetings

Santa, sex and sass this Christmas
I was fearful, reluctant to ask for help, when I ducked into my local Border’s bookstore on a rainy night last week.
I carefully checked the magazine aisles, crammed with hundreds of titles, looking in vain. But I spotted a clerk, and in a low voice that I tried to keep steady and even, questioned him. “I think we have one in the back,” he said, and disappeared into a storage room. He returned a few minutes later, carrying a hefty, 298-page volume, sheathed in plastic.
A sticker warned, “Due to mature content, parental consent suggested for readers under 18.” The plastic was dusty and covered with tape.
I broke the tape and hungrily snatched the book from the wrapper. I had the six bucks to pay for it, nothing was going to stop me from reading the special Christmas edition of the Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue!
Reportedly, the attorney general of Michigan has some issues with this particular issue being sold to minors at bookstores and A&F stores in malls.
It’s interesting that he is from the Midwest, home of solid, red-blooded, American meat because this catalogue is similarly filled with the requisite solid, red-blooded, Bruce Weber beefcake pics.
Over the last 20 years, in campaigns for Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren, Weber has redefined our notions of what is sexy, what is beautiful and what is acceptable by giving us a stripped-down visual aesthetic. Because the look–the beauty of the naked human form–was so elevated, the rules of content could be bended. Men could be the objects.
But after endless pictures of men with great chests, Weber seems to be focusing on a new erogenous zone: the lower belly-button area, the male sub-midriff. This is indeed the first Yuletide magazine cover I’ve seen graced both by a model’s teddy bear and pubic hair.
Personally, I don’t entirely understand how this ever-edgier imagery, conjured by Sam Shahid, has transformed A&F from a sleepy, 1930s outdoorsman emporium for preppy fishermen to the booming retail operation it now is, supplying must-have fashion for kids of middle school to post-college age. But it has.
Yet the attorney general’s beef isn’t with the pictures of the boys; rather, it’s with the magalogue’s attempt at heterosexual humor: a cartoon depicting Mrs. Claus, stiletto in hubby’s back (Santa is on all fours on the floor), wearing a black-leather bustier and throwing a whip, giving new meaning to “Onward, Prancer!”
S&M returns in an interview with a cross-dressing diva, Candy Cayne. “Do you have any favorite toys?” she is asked. “Other than my whips?” she replies.
Now that’s festive. There’s also an interview with a 19-year-old female porn star, Jenna Jameson: “I’m a millionaire,” she says. “I have three houses.” But wait. There’s a full-page, black-and-white photo of Andy Dick standing naked in the street covering his privates with a cardboard sign that says, “Hot nuts.”
Dick maintains, “People need to see my ass more.” The A&F catalog isn’t just shocking on the heterosexual sex front. It also includes stupidity. A group of teenagers is asked, Which do you like better: the old Beetle or the new Beetle? “Who are the new Beatles?” 15-year-old Mila responds.
I’m not sure which part is more telling or upsetting about where our culture is going, but I wouldn’t want my 9-year-old reading it.
Of course, I only look at it for the clothing. Ho ho ho. And to all, a perfect white parka, pure as the driven snow.
Abercrombie & Fitch Quarterly
Abercrombie & Fitch Columbus, Ohio
Agency: Shahid & Co., New Yor